News & Views

We don’t usually blow our own trumpet at n/n; we’re usually too busy helping our clients blow theirs via the content that we create on their behalf. Nevertheless, it’s gratifying that our work sometimes gets recognised, even if by proxy.

In the 2016 International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) awards, held in London earlier this month, FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF) and Ketchum Research took the prize for the World’s Best PR Campaign in the Healthcare sector, for the Philips Future Health Index.

This groundbreaking campaign benchmarked countries’ readiness to meet emerging healthcare challenges by examining perceptions about the accessibility and level of integration of healthcare services, and the adoption of connected care technology. This was based on an ambitious survey of healthcare professionals and patients conducted by a team led by FHF and Ketchum Research.

Where did n/n come in? We analysed the findings and used them to craft the core FHI report, turning the extensive research data into a trenchant and compelling editorial product that contained insights and calls to action for a broad audience of healthcare practitioners, policymakers and experts. Far beyond a simple marketing exercise, this programme puts Philips at the centre of a global discussion that will have profound implications for how countries and populations worldwide address emerging healthcare challenges.

We’d like to extend our congratulations to Philips for recognising the transformative potential of content backed by solid research; FHF and Ketchum for devising a great campaign … and, okay, ourselves. We’ve always believed that our work sets new bars at the highest international levels, and that editorially impeccable content will be increasingly vital to help firms burnish their brands. This is solid evidence that we’re not wrong on either of those counts.

Here’s to an award-winning (and content-rich) 2017!


How can you tell content marketing works? When even the marketing companies are using it. The ‘State of Inbound 2016’ report from sales software specialist HubSpot is a good example, and an insightful piece of research in its own right.

HubSpot being an inbound sales platform, the neutrality of its conclusions might be called into question, but the firm’s certainly done some legwork, polling 4,500 marketers globally and 800 in Asia Pacific alone — most non-HubSpot customers in small and mid-sized enterprises. Not surprisingly, the report shows inbound marketing (that is, getting customers to come to you via a website, content or referrals) is far more effective in terms of return on investment than the ‘outbound’ variety (shouting at customers to come to you with display, banner or other types of ads). Here are some of the other key findings from our perspective:

Content is a must — and a struggle

Creating content was the second-biggest inbound marketing priority for Asia-Pacific companies, just under enhancing their website search engine optimisation. But it doesn’t necessarily come easy; nearly a third (31%) saw targeting content for an international audience as a major challenge.

Content can also be exhausting — 66% of marketers said they develop their own content in-house, and almost a quarter (23%) spend four hours or more crafting one short blog post. It’s great that so much thought and care is going into the process, but (depending on subject matter) it really shouldn’t take that long — and can’t, if small marketing teams hope to generate content at a rate (and on a level of quality) to fuel ambitious campaigns and long-term engagement. Simple lack of capacity may result in more enlisting the help of (ahem) outside agencies to support their content needs, which a mere 21% those polled did currently.

Distribution: The classics reign (for now)

While HubSpot concentrated on blogs in this study, next year’s will almost certainly have to encompass video — YouTube and Facebook video were the most popular emerging content distribution channels, with 51% and 40% of those polled respectively planning to add them to their marketing programs in the next 12 months. Instagram was a distant third (28%) while few placed much emphasis on Snapchat (11%) or Vine (5%). This indicates to us that marketers plan to focus their content efforts on a couple of key formats or platforms, and that’s a sound strategy — far better to master one or two distribution channels than to do a half-hearted job of populating all of them.

The study also shows most people continue to draw a line between social and business networking. Only LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are seen as ‘professional’ platforms; others, including Instagram, WeChat and Weibo, are still used almost exclusively for personal purposes. That doesn’t necessarily mean these channels should be disregarded by businesses, but does suggest that LinkedIn and Facebook are still the places where ‘serious’ content is most likely to connect with decision makers, and have the most impact, particularly in the business-to-business context. This might change as more organisations refine their visual content offerings, or turn their attention to the mainland Chinese market and its homegrown networking platforms.

All in all, it’s encouraging that content and not ad spending is viewing as the new marketing currency, and we look forward to seeing how the results change next year.


We’re very happy to announce today the formal appointment of n/n’s new Hong Kong-based director of business development, Elizabeth Kwong.

A veteran of top-tier media brands such as Asiamoney, Time and the Economist Group, Elizabeth boasts a formidable combination of sales skills and serious publishing and project management chops, and has helped shape content strategies for a range of clients in industries from technology to retail. We expect Elizabeth to play a major role in our future growth (and perhaps keep the rest of us in line in the process).

For more details on Elizabeth and the rest of the expanding team, please see our People page.


Many of the events of the second day of RISE, Hong Kong’s tech-startup-focused conference, were devoted to disruption in marketing and media (how could we not attend?) One of the most interesting panels was entitled “The media-driven brand”, but as one panellist noted the discussion could equally have been about “brand-driven media”. Which is driving which? It’s not a new question, but it has become more pointed as traditional publishers struggle to revamp their subscription and advertising-dependent business models, and as companies are producing more high-quality content (which is where, *cough*, we come in) alongside pure brand advertising.

Publishers have traditionally won or lost on the size and quality of their audiences, but now–in competition with behemoths like Facebook and its endless free newsfeed–they face difficult choices about how make their businesses sustainable. “Media needs to be rebooted,” said Rob Fan, co-founder and CTO of Sharethrough, a native advertising platform, on the RISE panel. He cited Buzzfeed, which has parlayed its mass appeal to the digital native crowd into some serious journalism.

Coming at it from the other direction is harder. Traditional publishers will find it hard to build Buzzfeed-level fanbases and are unlikely to see subscriptions or old-style ad sales recover lost ground. Sadly, great content alone is not enough to make them solvent. (Just ask Alan Rusbridger.) There are some innovative attempts out there–including in our home town–to crowdfund news reporting, but however commendable such efforts are, it seems media and brands will have to keep collaborating to make the most out of their target audiences’ evolving proclivities.

One solution–that Mr Fan’s platform was founded to enable–is to allow native advertising; that is, embedding and integrating a brand’s content alongside the publisher’s own. This can help independent publishers survive, Mr Fan claimed, warning that without them we’d risk a world where “everyone is a blogger” and no one does any serious reporting. But there is a risk with native advertising that companies and publishers alike recognise: if it isn’t clearly demarcated, the audience may start to lose trust in the credibility and authority of the publisher–and by extension the brand paying for the content. (The Onion, itself no stranger to the concept, made a good, and very crude, point about this a few years back. Only follow that link–or read The Onion–if you’re not easily offended.)

Trust is hard-won and easily lost. But as another panellist, Lara Setrakian, co-founder and CEO of NewsDeeply, explained, there is a way to build it and simultaneously make high-quality independent publishing sustainable in collaboration with corporate partners. First, and above all, establish that editorial goals are paramount, and do good work. This will generate loyal and passionate communities of followers that companies will want to reach. Then use this experience to create custom projects on related themes. (It’s also a model that The Economist Intelligence Unit has used to good effect when conducting sponsored research.)

Of course this means walking a fine editorial line, but it is one that it pays both media platforms and corporate brands to adhere to–if they want to build trust in their audiences. Ceding a degree of editorial control is uncomfortable for some brands, but given they share with the publisher the objectives of building a sustainable business and pleasing a discerning audience, it’s a step that must be taken.

 


We’re very pleased to announce we’re seeking the next addition to the n/n team, in the form of a Hong Kong-based director of business development. A full description of the role is below — please e-mail applications or any questions to info@new-narrative.com

Title: Director of Business Development, Hong Kong

New Narrative (n/n) is looking for a dynamic sales director to help scale the company and drive its growth from phenomenal to incredible. With responsibility for new client acquisition as well as deepening relationships with existing clients, the role calls for a dynamic, motivated and confident sales leader eager to grow professionally in—and alongside—an ambitious and rapidly expanding enterprise.

Skills and Experience Required

The successful candidate should have:

— A minimum of five years’ experience in media sales or a senior corporate communications or marketing role

— Experience working in the financial or professional services sectors

— Knowledge of the traditional, new and social media communications strategies of financial and professional services firms

— A deep network of contacts among marketing and communications decision-makers in these industries

— A gregarious personality and a keen desire to expand his or her network of contacts

— Awareness that success depends on timely action and tenacity in adversity

— Fluent English; Cantonese would be an advantage

— The right to work in Hong Kong

Salary

The role offers a generous base salary and attractive commission, based on experience.

New Narrative is an equal opportunities employer.


So, according to Fortune, computers are taking over the reporting of breaking financial news, and are in some respects better at it than human journalists. As former financial hacks, we saw the early stages of this transformation, and find it both intriguing and slightly troubling. We’d agree that human judgement will always be required to determine what raw numbers actually mean, and to steer clear of the kind of language that might inadvertently sow market panic. But leaving aside the implications for the journalism industry, the article raises an excellent point:

“The role of reporters today should be to act as ‘silo busters’ who can acquire information from diverse sources and present it in context … for journalists, it’s now about connecting, synthesizing and analyzing.”

This, in a nutshell, is how data should be viewed and treated by everyone. With data collection and analytics now vital to any business, most companies generate data as a matter of course that can tell compelling stories about their organisation or industry. However in addressing the media or a wider audience, simply cherry-picking a few figures is unlikely to have much impact, as numbers in isolation are essentially meaningless. For example, sales might have rose 125%, but off what kind of base? And 70% of your customers may be repeat clients, but how does that compare to the industry average?

An organisation that sifts through data to identify and shed light on longer-term trends, however, can use it to position itself as an authority with plenty to say not only about its field, but wider issues. And this applies to just about everybody; a logistics firm, for example, will have intelligence on the state of infrastructure where it operates; an online florist could easily produce some tongue-in-cheek findings on the state of romance in the various markets it ships to. Teasing a story out of data doesn’t necessarily require computer scientists or costly analytics engines; often it’s a more matter of working with the right partners to highlight, repurpose and present existing information in the most engaging possible way. We’ve used company data to develop everything from research reports to ongoing proprietary indexes, which often produce the kind of rankings and headlines that can compete with the most blatant clickbait (with, of course, a lot more class and intellectual heft).

In a crowded content market, intellectual property is one of the most valuable currencies there is — and most companies are sitting on a mountain of it. We’d humbly suggest ‘connect, synthesise, analyse’ works equally well as a mantra for business journalists and the best content programmes.

 

 


There’s a deluge of content about creating content out there. Inevitably a lot of it is mediocre (you could say the same about content in any field) but, like the temples hidden around the otherwise aesthetically disastrous city of Kyoto, there are diamonds if you know where to look.

Gartner, where the always dependable Jake Sorofman provides regular, and regularly good, analysis on trends in content marketing, is one such place. We were struck in this post not by the snazzy London-Tube-Style map of digital marketing hubs and channels, but by the first comment on the page, by David H Deans, Texas-based technology, media and telecoms consultant. It’s worth quoting at length—we’ve added emphasis to the bits that really stand out:

I wonder if one of these Hubs will ever really help the typical B2B CMO solve their top challenge in 2016 — that being, digital marketing talent development. Having enough skilled and experienced staff that can ‘create’ meaningful and substantive content is an unattainable goal for way too many B2B marketing leaders.

Case in point: I recent worked with a large software vendor on Cloud market strategy. It typically took their Product Marketing subject-matter experts ~2 months to create a distinctive PowerPoint presentation and ~6 months to create a forward-thinking white paper. Content ideas were never an issue. However, when you asked a meeting of a dozen or more staff “who can start to write the core narrative for this project?” — everybody looks around the room; nobody is confident that they’re qualified.

This puts a common problem—one that New Narrative was founded to help solve—excellently. You might be confident you have all the right pipelines and distribution channels in place, but who’s actually going to create content that your audience wants to read, watch or engage with to fill them?

The issue can be one of training staff, as Mr Deans goes on to note. To be sure, there are many ways you can lead people through the necessary steps to tell better stories, write punchier scripts, design more eye-catching videos, become more confident presenters and so on.

But editorial nous, the kind learned in the newsroom, is harder to pick up. Astute consumers will always spot the artifice in content created by someone who isn’t confident of their own editorial acumen—or who is too beholden to the marketing department. After the pipelines are built, content expertise needs to be brought to bear—and that’s not always something that can be found or fostered internally. As with all strategies, part of a successful approach to content is knowing when to seek outside help.


As we step into 2016, content has moved from buzzword to the boardroom. Leading companies are more prepared than ever to allocate large budgets to content marketing campaigns, and some are going one step further and hiring internal CCOs, or ‘Chief Content Officers.’

As a company that lives and breathes content, we at New Narrative (n/n) are excited to see the way the business has developed over the past couple of years, and we’re optimistic about the year ahead–though there are a few pitfalls to avoid. With that in mind, here’s our take on the trends that should drive content marketing in 2016:

Gourmet dinners trump fast food

First and foremost: quality must (and hopefully will) trump quantity. To be effective in 2016 and beyond, marketing departments must engage the people or partners that have the intellectual capital to produce compelling content, and be prepared to take calculated risks.

The Internet has given every company the ability to publish as they wish. But that freedom, while intoxicating, is often abused: some companies rush to publish even though they may not have anything compelling to say. They end up like the annoying guest at a dinner party who adds nothing of value to the conversation but keeps talking anyway.

How does a company ensure what it says is compelling? That’s the million-dollar question. One rule of thumb is to make sure something important is at stake in any piece of published content–just like in the movies and novels we all know and love. Content consumers have to care about or be invested in the story, emotionally, intellectually or financially. Many companies instinctively shy away from expressing opinions or taking a clear stance in the content they produce, but that makes it difficult for an audience to draw inspiration from or identify with it.

This also means content creators need to care about caring. The issues they address in their editorial output should matter to their key stakeholders, but also resonate beyond their company and its immediate goals and interests. Put plainly, companies need to talk about something beside themselves. Corporate narcissism is no more appealing than its human counterpart.

Take a global investment bank for example. Bragging about its size or capabilities probably isn’t going to get the bank very far in the world of content marketing. But sharing a prediction about the future of market reforms in China, and how companies and investors can benefit by adjusting exposure to China’s currency, the renminbi? That’s a story that an external audience is also invested in, and positions the institution as a voice of authority on a topic that matters by many definitions.

Let’s see that editorial calendar

The second content marketing trend in 2016 will be the rise of the editorial calendar. Although quantity should never be a goal in itself, it’s a fact of life that clients, investors and customers expect regular engagement in this sleepless information era. The trick is to produce a steady stream of content without sacrificing quality.

On that note, one-off items like lengthy white papers, no matter how insightful, will no longer have the impact they once did. These projects should be part of a broader editorial calendar rolled out over a longer time horizon, typically six months to a year, that builds the image of the company as a consistent and informed voice in the marketplace.

These corporate editorial calendars, much like news planners in the world’s top media companies, should include a diverse mix of content types in order to keep audience engagement fresh and compelling. Content sets could include everything from op-ed columns to infographics to animated videos.

Flexibility is a requirement. The editorial calendar needs to respond to current news developments, and output adjusted accordingly. Again, back to the dinner table conversation analogy: no one invested in Asia’s financial markets would be interested in your views on the latest developments in Indonesia if Hong Kong were to drop its currency peg.

Focus on distribution – and results

Once you’ve got the content, what do you do with it? In 2016 more focus should be on the answers to this question. Companies will need to find partners who offer comprehensive distribution plans for their content to make sure the effort doesn’t effectively float out into space, never to return. Distribution is where companies will be able to unlock and evaluate the return on the investment they are making in their content.

The first step toward an effective measurement of content ROI is audience definition. Just as companies must have a compelling story to tell, they also need to know who the story is for. An existing customer? A potential customer? An investor? A regulator? Many companies fail to spend enough time considering these questions before they launch their campaigns, and hence struggle to produce content that’s relevant and insightful.

All content is not equal for all audiences, and no one piece of content is likely to appeal across a firm’s stakeholder groups. A bank’s insights on China’s interest rates may be of interest to currency investors or CFOs, but irrelevant to everyone else.

Once the audience is defined, however, the content can be crafted accordingly, and the right distribution machinery deployed. The options have never been more numerous. There are paid-for distribution options on LinkedIn; dedicated content publishing platforms such as Outbrain; and all-in-one marketing software solutions such as HubSpot, all of which allow content to be channeled towards certain audiences with a high degree of accuracy.

Use of these platforms will give marketers an overview of who is consuming their content, where they are based, and to what extent the content is reaching the target audience. This data, in turn, should be used to refine future content outreach and converted into sales leads, making it easy to establish the links between content and the bottom line.


We’re delighted to announce today a new addition to the New Narrative ranks — David Line, former Asia managing editor for thought leadership at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), who joins us as an operating partner. Needless to say David’s significant experience overseeing major content campaigns on everything from the future of the renminbi to the ‘quality of death’ (eek!) in the region, as well as his talents as a panelist and pitiless pool shark, should stand us in good stead as we head into 2016. For more information on David and the rest of the team please see: http://new-narrative.com/about/people/


There’s no disputing the power of crowdfunding. It’s birthed some pretty nifty things that probably otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and that the team here at n/n just can’t do without, like card games featuring exploding cats (www.explodingkittens.com) and old-school video games (http://eternity.obsidian.net/).

But can crowdfunding save and sustain journalism? Probably not, argues one of our managing directors in the current issue of the Correspondent, the official magazine of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (http://fcchk.org/hkfp-leads-crowded-field-online-news; under ‘Crowds to the Rescue?’).

This might seem overly cynical, especially just after a couple of much-needed independent media sources have successfully launched through crowdfunding in our hometown of Hong Kong. But it’s less the ability to get a publication off the ground than keeping it going for the long-term that we’re worried about. At the same time, there’s good reason to believe journalism shouldn’t be left completely to the mercy of market forces, and that crowdfunding could serve as one pillar of a revenue strategy that also includes subscriptions, advertising and content partnerships. Donating to get a publication started is great, but what a media outlet really needs is a dedicated audience — and one that’s willing to shell out consistently in some form for what it consumes. Thankfully in the current environment there are many ways to be a long-term supporter — from regularly paying a few cents to read individual articles, to sharing good content across your personal or professional networks.